TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jerrell Powe must have taken a good look at the Alabama offense.
Then, Monday afternoon, the Mississippi defensive lineman presented his findings to reporters in Oxford.
“I think they got exposed,” he said. “They showed they’re just a one-dimensional team. They run the ball really well. I think South Carolina did a good job of stopping the run, and they really couldn’t get anything going after they got stopped.”
Referencing the then-top-ranked Crimson Tide’s struggles in Saturday’s 35-21 loss in Columbia, S.C, Powe’s comments made headlines but apparently not the bulletin board inside Alabama’s football complex. Players said they were not familiar with the criticism coming from the team they will face at 9 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
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But was it accurate?
Of the Tide’s 351 total offensive yards Saturday, 89.7 percent came through the air.
And if it’s a question of why the Tide went away from the running game in the comeback effort, Nick Saban has a quick response. The circumstances led the play-calling to throw the ball instead of handing it to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
“When the game goes like the game went and you get behind 21-3, what is the priority?” Saban said. “Is it to get those guys their carries, or is to try to get back in the game? When you get behind 21-3 are you trying to get back in the game, or are you trying to make sure Mark (Ingram) and Trent (Richardson) get their carries? What’s the priority? To me it’s to get back in the game. Sometimes the game determines that.”
Before time became a factor, Ingram and Richardson had moderate success running the ball, though not close to their normal output. Ingram averaged 3.7 yards per run while Richardson’s was 3.8 — down from their 7.1 and 7.0 respective season averages with the Gamecocks’ defense keying on the run. The hosts also played with the physicality they lacked in 2009, when Ingram sparked his Heisman campaign by gashing South Carolina for 246 yards.
The downturn in rushing yardage started a few weeks ago. After running for a season-high 315 yards Sept. 18 at Duke, the yardage has slipped every week. Against a much better defense at Arkansas, the total was down to 227, then to 170 against Florida.
A week before Alabama netted just 36 yards in Columbia, a different set of circumstances limited the Tide’s rushing numbers against the Gators. Florida also tried to crowd the box, but Alabama’s offense was effectively kept off the field in the second half as Florida put together a few long but unsuccessful possessions.
Facing a similar deficit against Arkansas, the Tide used more balance than it did at South Carolina. Of the first two second-half drives Alabama put together after falling behind the Razorbacks 20-7, the run-to-pass ratio was 9 to 25.
In Columbia, Ingram got the ball in the only four planned runs of the second half, with three coming in the first four plays after halftime. Those four carries netted 23 yards, but when McElroy’s five sacks were taken into account, the Tide ran for a negative-1 yard after halftime.
“I don’t think it put a lot of pressure on me,” McElroy said. “I think, being in that situation, we tried to throw the ball a little bit more and had some success through the air. We know we have to capitalize when we get down in the red zone, and we have to limit mistakes when we get down there as well. It is just disappointing. I can’t say that word enough.”
The 36-to-315 ratio of rushing yards to passing yards is unmistakable.
That’s a far cry from the symmetry the group found against Penn State, Duke and Arkansas. The difference between passing and rushing totals never equaled more than 49 yards with the most balance coming against Duke (315 rushing, 211 passing).